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First Settler Descendant: Bob ‘Chipmunk’ Glover

Bob Glover’s ancestors were true pioneers in the Euro-American settlement of Anderson Valley.  And the fact motivated his personal ambitions and worldview since his youth.

After the 1849 Gold Rush seven Swiss-German families left their farms in Madison and Jersey Counties, Illinois, and together drove horse and wagon and all their conveyable possessions to California, then around 1855 north to Anderson Valley.  Their Illinois homes were in one of the most swampy, floodprone parts of the state, where the Illinois and Missouri Rivers join the Mississippi, and spring snowmelts regularly flooded and eroded away their agricultural efforts, likely corn and hogs, maybe wheat.  As Anderson Valley first settlers, the seven families, Guntlys, Gschwends, Gossmans, Schneiders, Kirrys, Conrads, and Hausmans, ended up by 1875 owning much of the best ranchland between Philo and the future Navarro town.  My farm in the Deep End was once owned by a Guntly.

Bob Glover was a fourth generation descendant of Guntlys and Gschwends.   His mother was a Guntly and through intermarriage his Gschwend neighbors were cousins, and he recognized and enjoyed the status and authority of his roots.  In fact, his patrician heritage influenced dramatically his career ambitions and worldview.  I met Bob the first months my wife and I settled in Navarro, or I should say Bob accosted me and introduced himself making sure we understood he was the official historian and self-appointed appraiser of the status and integrity of our residents from Navarro to Yorkville, Greenwood and Peachland too.  I of course was thrilled to be a neighbor to such a knowledgeable interpreter of our history, family by family, and learned to trust without question the credibility, the accuracy of his anecdotes going back to earliest settlement times.

Bob himself, typical of later generation scions from “aristocratic” families, had a rather “adventuresome” adolescence in Anderson Valley.  He never spoke of his father Glover, who died, I believe when Bob was a teen-ager.  And I never found out more than his ancestors had migrated to California from New York’s Mohawk Valley Erie Canal area.  I have Glover ancestors on my mother’s side of Wileys who also migrated to California from the Mohawk Valley, so we assumed he and I were related.

After Bob’s father died, his mother, Irene, married Carl Schmidt, a locomotive engineer on the local Albion Branch logging railroad, and they lived in the large pleasant house across the street from Guntly Ranch and on the Old Highway, where Marvin Schenck, retired Ukiah Grace Hudson House and Museum curator lives today.

When I say  Bob enjoyed an “adventuresome” teenagerdom, I cite the story recounted in Joan Bloyd’s novel about a year in the life of the Gschwend family, Five O’clock Cake, where Bob “borrows” his grandfather Ed’s roofless touring car, a couple of rifles and a lot of beer and celebrates Halloween with his cousins with a drunken night of jackrabbit spotting on Gschwend Ranch - until they roll over the car on a steep curve along the dirt ranch road and escape unharmed, except for the grandfather’s rifle stock.  It was hard to explain to the elders how the car got upside down and the rifle destroyed.  What a great growing up in Depression-Era Anderson Valley story.

At reaching majority Bob found it necessary to leave The Valley and migrate during World War II to Chicago, via some relatives in Fresno.  Something to do with, he reported to me, having been discovered occasionally “borrowing” money from his grandfather Ed’s wallet.   I don’t mean my anecdotes to suggest Bob was leading a totally feckless life here in The Valley.  In fact he described to me with great technical detail about railroad bridges, cuts and fills while employed in the mid-thirties, along with his Gschwend cousin, Bub, by the Southern Pacific Railroad to “salvage” the steel rails, tie plates and spikes on the Albion Branch, shut down and abandoned in 1928.  The salvage work lasted for two years and at decent wages.  In 1937, Southern Pacific found a good customer for the scrap steel in the Imperial Japanese government. Remanufactured, the scrap may have, Bob and I reflected, returned to Pearl Harbor and other World War II naval engagements as battleships or aircraft carriers.

Bob also recounted with great glee his and cousin Bub’s contribution to the local celebration of Fourth of July Independence Day.  Down at Navarro mill there was still a rusting steam locomotive abandoned after the mill shut down.  During each spring he and Bub would assemble a pile of Douglas fir logs next to the engine, and on The Fourth’s dawn, they would head down to the millsite, build a fire in her firebox under the boiler, and by noontime, they had made enough steam to begin blasting the locomotive’s whistle.  Usually they had made enough firewood to keep the episodic whistle orchestration going all afternoon.

When the wife and I first met Bob in 1971, he  had returned from his Chicago odyssey with a wife, Ava, born in Madisonville Kentucky, a coal-mining community along the Mississippi River.  Ava radiated gracious southern gentility including her “a-accent” and kind patience with Bob’s rather unconventional behavior around the community here.  I think they met doing wartime  assembly line labor in Chicago.  And by the time we arrived here in The Valley, Bob had set himself up as a reliable electrician, domestic and ag pump system installer, and had created a local television transmission system business, Glovervision, providing  four channels of network programming from Boonville all the way into deep Navarro.  More on that later.

We first met Bob within a month of settling in the Loren Bloyd house down on Highway 128, Navarro.  The domestic water system was Loren-built, seasonally unreliable, and clogged with the iron and calcium carbonate from the submersible pump intake to the faucets and showerheads. Anderson Valley groundwater, we all know it well, and for which reason he was a regular service caller, teaching me how to do the repair work without having to phone him, we being deeply grateful due to our puny daily living budget.  

Mentioning phone service reminds me that in 1971 Navarro we still had party lines.  To wit when you called a party neighbor, you dialed, hung up, let the phone ring a few times, then retrieved your receiver to see if anyone had picked up theirs.  When our phone rang, we only picked it up if the ring struck once, not twice, three or four times.  Under this arrangement I learned about a local social activity I later found out was typical of rural communities.  In lieu of other forms of media entertainment, some neighbors surreptitiously picked up the phone on other party’s rings to join passively the conversation on the line.  After a few months in The Valley, I realized someone was listening in on our phone conversations.  The soft click of their joining the call was the clue; also sometimes another click to leave it if the listener found our chat boring.  Using deduction I brought an end to our uninvited teleguest one evening, by simply saying, “Bob, please hang up your phone.”  I knew the other party line member, Valfrid and Violet Salmela wouldn’t be interested in our phone conversations, and there was no fourth customer in the party.  Never heard that “click” again.

Back to Bob’s electrical and pump installation and repair skills.  He was excellent in his craft.  Knew how to buy the best equipment and materials, and to install them as cheaply and efficiently as one can.  The Red Jacket submersible pump he installed for my vineyard irrigation system in 1976 lasted for almost forty years with no failures to pump or pumping station pressure control system.  Imagine that today.

The float he designed to suspend the pump from was imaginative and a bit perilous.  He saved me some expense by tying together with heavy duty manila rope two salvaged truck tires and suspending the pump horizontally with a rope from each tire.  After a stormy winter in the pond, of course, the manila wore out from the friction of the independently rocking tires, and I had to bind them together again in the spring.  No big deal.

Take a look at the photo included in my story.  It shows Bob and Lyle Luckert at the Mill Creek instream domestic well site for Lyle’s Nash Mill Road ranch.  What you can’t see is the imaginative engineering design for the system Bob installed for the Luckerts: a flood-protected submersible pump to lift water from Mill Creek about 300 almost vertical feet up to a 3,000 gallon redwood holding tank.  More complex was the wiring Bob installed from Lyle’s house from tree to tree down the hill a couple of hundred yards to the pump; and the above ground plastic pipe feeding stream water uphill through heavy woods to a holding tank.  To complete the system the tank was located high enough on a hill above the house a couple of hundred yards away that the piped house water flowed from faucets with decent gravity-provided pressure.  

And Bob had another skill associated with water needs, domestic and agricultural here in The Valley.  He was a deeply talented dowser.  If a customer needed a new or supplementary well, Bob was the one person in the Valley, except for “Smokey” Blattner, who could dowse or “witch” with accuracy the right place to drill or dig.  And all he possessed for a dowsing instrument was two metal coathangers, straightened out, then bent ninety degrees six inches from their tips to provide a hand grip.  With a hanger gently, not too tightly, held in each hand, elbows against his rib cage, Bob would survey a potential well site, whether half an acre or forty, until the two pieces of metal, pointed straight ahead as he walked slowly across the given site, each turned ninety degrees left and right from his body.  Aha, there’s the water!

And he would repeat this exercise around the property again to double check the credibility of his find.  And then even more mysterious, Bob would discard one stick, hold the other casually out in front of himself, and count the number of times its tip dignifiedly dipped toward the ground and back.  Fifty five dips meant the aquifer level was fifty five feet down,  more or less.

Well, the first time I saw Bob perform this dowsing magic, I was totally in awe of the transaction.  Magic or an electromagnetic field between his body, the metal, the earth below and  a seam of water?  At my wonder Bob diffidently replied, “No, Brad, I bet you can do it too…”  So I borrowed his tools and walked what I hoped was randomly around the well exploration site, and sure enough, when I arrived near Bob’s discovery, my sticks did what his did, they turned at right angles to my body.  I was simply thrilled.

Twice in the future I got to test my dowsing skills against a provable reality.  First time was up on the Gschwend Ranch after it was subdivided into twenty and forty acre lots.  My friend and neighbor Kathy Bailey was interested in a lot of mostly open meadow just above Christine Woods.  I advised her that though there was a decent spring on the property — down the hill in the woods, I knew it got pretty weak in high Summer; so she should drill a well for the home she planned to build there.  And I offered to do a preliminary dowse before she hired a professional driller.

One pleasant late spring afternoon, Kathy and I went up to the property to test my skills.  I had brought a couple of short pieces of rebar and some surveyor’s tape to mark any water indications I found.  We started systematically across the lot from South to North, and within a hundred yards of our starting point, the metal rods indicated water.  I drove and flagged a peg and continued north to the approximate edge of the 10 acres, turned left, headed west, then south again.  A couple of hundred yards down my route, the hangar rods again indicated water and I pegged the site.  Then on south and continued my systematic traverse, west then north again.  And again in a hundred yards from my start, another indication. 

After I pegged this one, I looked back toward the other two pegs several hundred yards away.  All three were in a straight line and on a perfectly flat piece of pasture land. Something’s wrong here.  So I stopped to reflect on the problem, lifted my hat and wiped away the sweat on my brow, and as I lifted my head a bit to savor the soft breeze, right above us dowsers about fifty feet in the air was the PG&E mainline to Navarro and Comptche, the 1600 volt wires lined up perfectly with all my pegs.

Several years later I was back east visiting my parents in their Rhode Island summer home.  My parents were having problems with a kitchen sink not draining waste water, which as a self-defined “country boy” I knew was associated with an aging, failing septic distribution system.  My suburban folks had no idea where the septic tank was; never mind what it was.  So, I thought, let’s use this problem to test my dowsing skills.  I grabbed two metal coat hangers and with a dramatic display of engineering know-how for the benefit of my parents shaped the hangers into dowsing sticks using the dining room table as a workbench.  The soil at our home near the ocean was sandy and shallow and sat on granite, and with our large household daily using too much water, I knew there would be plenty of evidence of the waste not very deep.  And sure enough, on the first pass, I got a firm indication in the back yard twelve feet from the kitchen sink.  So I did my box route walk, and sure enough I found another indication that lined up with the first one and the kitchen window.  Other passes further out in the yard showed no signs of water.  And lo and behold, when the contractor came with the back hoe to replace the septic tank and improve the leach field, my indications were spot on.  I had found the sewage pipe from the sink and the septic tank too.  Thank you, Bob Glover.

The long conversation sessions Bob and I had I should note had a kind of perverse side to them I had a hard time understanding because of the discomfort they caused me.  Often in his story-telling he would wander off into speculation about the sexual proclivities of some of the neighborhood women he provided electrical and pump services to.  The Holmes Ranch subdivision was in its early stages of population, which meant home building and well-drilling.  So Bob had plenty of customers there, including young families moving into The Valley and buying lots on it.  And it was always a shock to me when his monologues wandered off into speculation about a certain wife’s interest in getting to know him more intimately than as a client.  I remember how in embarrassment I would try to redirect the conversation to more historical themes, even as unnoticing he plowed ahead with his prurient interest in these sexual matters.

(Next week:  “Chipmunk” the engineering services entrepreneur.)

One Comment

  1. Douglas Coulter January 2, 2022

    Just a small correction.
    Horse drawn wagons rarely survived the crossing from Mississippi to California due to poor grasses. Oxen could survive the trek much better until a good system of trading posts by 1860’s made horse drawn wagon trains common. Nevada has a great history of eating travelers with The 40 Mile Desert as the most deadly.

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